Can you remember the top 100 “best meals of your life”. Those moments when the company and the food was so good; you felt satisfied; perhaps you were so full that you thought, “I don’t think I could ever eat again.” But, inevitably, your tummy starts rumbling again – usually a few hours down the road, you think, what is there to eat?
There is a flip side to this. Those moments when we don’t get enough to eat. I remember biking with Angie a few years back. Apparently, I hadn’t fueled up enough. At some point in the “Very Hilly Very Long Ride”, I started to bonk. I didn’t have the stamina to keep my legs moving. We eventually decided that I would stop and wait while she biked all the miles back to get the car and come back and rescue me. After that experience, I always make sure to have some fuel on my bike to keep me going.
That’s one of the physical indicators of hunger, but there are also emotional indicators.
In Psychology there is an acronym called H.A.L.T. It’s often used in recovery circles. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. When these basic needs are not met, we are vulnerable and become susceptible to self-destructive behaviors. I wouldn’t necessarily confess it to you, but I have been told that I can get a wee bit grumpy and cranky when I’m hungry. There are times I forget to eat, I am so caught up in whatever it is I might be doing. By the time I realize I am hungry, I am famished. Paying attention to our physical needs is crucial – but wrapped up in our physical hungers are also spiritual hungers – and these are usually the ones we can’t articulate. We probably have a much better chance of recognizing physical hunger before spiritual hunger.
Simone Weil wrote, in her book Waiting for God, “The danger is not lest the soul should doubt whether there is any bread, but lest, by a lie, it should persuade itself that it is not hungry.” There are also times we forget that we are spiritually hungry.
There is a story that comes from an orphanage following World War II written in a book entitle Sleeping with Bread: Praying the Examen.
During the bombing raids of WWII, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They had nightmares about waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone had the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night
the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”
The understanding was that children could literally hold on to the promise that there would be enough to eat the next day. It was a reminder that God was with them, and they could sleep easier knowing that they would be fed – both physically and spiritually.
There is another story about a man who wrote a letter to the editor on why people should go to church: “I‘ve been married for 30 years now. In that time my wife has cooked some 32,000 meals. But, for the life of me, I cannot recall the entire menu for a single one of those meals. But I do know this. They all nourished me and gave me the strength I needed to do my work. If my wife had not given me these meals, I would be physically dead today. Likewise, I can’t remember the words of any sermon that was ever preached, but if I had not gone to church for spiritual nourishment, I would be spiritually dead today!”
Jesus understood that people needed to be fed both physically and spiritually. The feeding of the multitudes finds its way into each gospel in our canon, and demonstrates that we worship one who is in touch with our physical needs as well as our spiritual needs. In the prayer we pray each Sunday, the prayer attributed to Jesus, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread”. It references not just our physical hunger, but our spiritual hungers as well. All of us, at certain moments in our lives, recognize that there is something more, something deeper, something beyond. And it’s not separate or distinct from the mundane realities of our lives, but in them and through them.
We discover a deeper hunger that we often cannot even articulate. People of faith throughout the centuries have named this hunger as seeking the presence of God.
When Jesus says, I am the “bread of life,” he invites us on a way, on a journey, to come into the presence of God. We come to the “bread of life” again and again with the promise that God will come, that the Holy Spirit we call upon will show up.
Perhaps the place to begin is recognizing our own spiritual hunger, which in my life, presents itself as a myriad of things. What is it that you hunger for this morning? Can you name that place of deep longing within you?
We hunger for meaning, for hope, for peace in the midst of this war-torn world. We hunger for understanding. Or our hunger may be more immediate, even mundane.
We hunger for companionship. We hunger for reconciliation with loved ones. We’re hungry for work that is meaningful and fulfilling and pays the bills all at the same time. We’re hungry for someone to love us, for who we are, just the way we are. We hunger for someone who will reach out and hold our hand when we are hurting.
When we become aware of our own spiritual hungers AND attend to them, I believe we become more empathetic to the spiritual hunger of other people around us. When Jesus gave thanks over the bread and gave it to the people, he instructed the disciples to “gather up the fragments” so that nothing may be lost. We are called to gather up the fragments of our lives, and of other people’s lives – so that they will not be lost.
Jesus casts his circle around the fragments, he does not lose sight of what is broken, fragmented, and in pieces. He gathers them up: a sign of the wholeness perhaps only he can see; a foretaste of the banquet to come. Jan Richardson’s poem from front cover of the bulletin – Blessing the Fragments
Cup your hands together, and you will see the shape this blessing wants to take.
Basket, bowl, vessel: it cannot help but hold itself open to welcome what comes.
This blessing knows the secret of the fragments that find their way into its keeping,
the wholeness that may hide in what has been left behind,
the persistence of plenty where there seemed only lack.
Look into the hollows of your hands and ask what wants to be gathered there,
what abundance waits among the scraps that come to you,
what feast will offer itself from the fragments that remain.
It is a prophetic call for us not to forget about those who hunger. We participate in this story of a God who “feeds” and a people who serve. When we participate in the eating of the bread of life, we participate in so something bigger!
We cannot eat of this bread of life and forget. We cannot eat of this bread of life and walk away. We are called to be about restoration, healing, and wholeness – so we and they begin to experience the healing and restorative power of Jesus.
We have an opportunity to make sure that the resources we offer, the table we spread, the door that we open becomes part of God’s activity in the world.
There are many who are looking, many who are hungry; there are many who are searching. May we become the body that feeds them; may we become the body that proclaims the identity of the bread of life to this broken and hungry world. Let us gather the fragments so none may be lost. Amen.